Epigenetic drugs can effectively manipulate and alter a social creature’s behavior, a study involving Florida carpenter ants and published in a recent edition of journal Science suggested.
A team of researchers at University of Pennsylvania showed that they successfully manipulated carpenter ants’ behavior using epigenetic drugs. Carpenter ants live in colonies, where large & strong ants called majors work as guards, while small & inquisitive ants called minors work as food gatherers.
The majors and minors look and behave differently despite sharing same parents and the exact same genomes. Biologists believe that environmental factors or epigenetic factors are responsible for the notable difference.
The researchers led by Daniel Simola, a developmental biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on genes that affect neural operations like learning and memory. They identify a few enzymes that regulate these behaviors, and injected an enzyme directly into some ants’ brains after hatching.
The process immediately altered the balance of epigenetic chemicals, known as acetyl groups, leading to change in their behavior. The treatment made the treated ants take on new social roles. The treated majors appeared large and strong but they started searching and foraging for food, like minors.
The research suggests that social behavior is not essentially based on an individual’s genetics; environmental factors play a key role.